Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to give a tuning note

Learn how to give a tuning note when playing with other musicians

In this video, Robert talks about how to give a tuning note when playing with other musicians. Guest flutist Florence Estrin helps on the subject with a practical demonstration.

Released on July 23, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert Estrin: Hi, I'm Robert Estrin here at and Living And today's subject is how to give a tuning note. You might think, how to give a tuning note? Are you kidding me? You just play the note, right?

Well, there's actually a lot more to it. And we've got Florence Estrin here to kind of aid in this whole discussion. I can't tell you how many times we've gone to concerts together and at the very beginning you hear them tuning up and the pianist will go [plays piano] and they then . . . Show them what they do on the flute.

Florence Estrin: [plays flute]

Robert Estrin: And then they go, okay, and we look at each other like, are you kidding? And a lot of time we'll be able to tell that the other instrument, whether it's a flute or violin, it doesn't matter, is not in tune. But they can't tell why? Because they're not playing it the way they will in the music if you're just going to kind of peck the note. So that's on the soloist end, but as a pianist, pianists sometimes give a tuning note and then the flute plays or the other instrument play. It goes back and forth, or worse yet they'll do this and here's a big mistake. Ready? Let's tune together at exactly the same time. Go. [plays piano and flute]

So you do that, and you can know whether it's in tune or not. But it's extraordinarily difficult to tell which way it is if you play at exactly the same time. However, if you alternate the note, the tuning note, with the soloist you can hear the difference. So this is a great way to tune. First of all, play the note nice and strong, and you might want to add the D minor triad so they can tune to a chord or sometimes even A major triad playing nice and strong. Play more than one octave for the soloist, sometimes play different notes depending on the instrument.

So this is the way that we might tune, for example. I play the A in the middle of the piano very strong. I take the pedal to enhance the tone, and I add the D and the F beneath it right after [plays piano and flute]. And another thing we might do is play the octave higher [plays piano, then plays flute].

Don't be afraid to play that tuning loud. If you play it too softly, it's hard for the soloist to adjust and really make sense of it. And a lot of times as a soloist a lot of times people are squeamish, "Oh, I don't want to play that tuning note so loud. You know, people, they don't want to hear that." You know what? Tuning is important. They will appreciate you being in tune to the performance, and will endure the 30 seconds or whatever it takes you. So take your time with the tuning.

As a pianist, as you're giving that tuning note loud and clear, give it more than once. Give the soloist ample time to adjust pitch by playing the note not just at exactly the same time but alternate back and forth so they can hear themselves, particularly with students. It's vital that you provide them this opportunity because they're up there, they're not accustomed to tuning quickly and under pressure and nerves and all of that.

Is there anything you'd like to add, or do you think that's covers it pretty well?

Florence Estrin: I think you covered it pretty well.

Robert Estrin: All right. So that's it for tuning. Thanks so much for joining us here. This is Robert Estrin with and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Kay Linkletter * VSM MEMBER * on June 28, 2017 @8:45 am PST
I notice the piano you used when doing the session on "tuning note"/ I have a Mason and Risch built in 1934. I had the piano rebuilt but it would appear that the iron frame is not the original. There is no number on it now and not decal. The decal on the front of the piano is just block letters the original was decorative. I am disappointed, however I love playing this piano. Most piano tuners find the action a bit on the heavy side, but I like it. The case is like the one in your video, very beautiful. Can I buy the proper decal for the fall board? Might be tricky to replace the ugly block letters as the letters are under the finish lacquer.
Robert - host, on June 29, 2017 @12:21 pm PST
It is highly unlikely that the plate (cast iron frame) of the piano was replaced. As for the decal on the fallboard, you can purchase whatever style you prefer and have a refinisher affix it to the fallboard. Here is a website that sells decals for pianos:
Dale R Halsey * VSM MEMBER * on July 23, 2014 @10:23 am PST
Florence, I have started playing the flute again after a 25yr rest. And have been playing for about 2 to 3 yrs. My question is on the really high notes high A,B,C, I can hit them ok but the sound is loud and not very pretty. I here people play those notes but they sound good and not so loud, is there a trick to this, or it just takes a lot of practice. I know most music do not have these notes, but some music does, and I practice my tone a lot, I love a good flute tone, and would like to improve a lot on the really high notes, because you do have to play them once in a while. Thank you
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